Tips for staying plant-based while dining out

southwest tacos

I have a confession to make.

The thought of going to a restaurant and trusting someone else to make my food? Gross.

The thought of going to a restaurant and paying triple for a meal that I could make at home for pennies? Nauseating.

BUT, the convenience of it all? Amazing.

Let’s face it. As a society we dine out more now, than we ever have. Back in the day, taking your family to a restaurant used to be a splurge or luxury. But now, individuals and families are busy. Really busy. So going out to eat four or five times a week is the norm. This also contributes to our growing (literally) obesity epidemic.

In general, home cooked meals are healthier because you control what goes into it. Salt, sugar, oil…you know, the so-called “good stuff.” Chefs at restaurants though? They pretty much have free range and are often way too generous with all of it.

Oh, and what’s that you say? You don’t eat meat?

“Our grilled halibut sandwich is amazing!”

Yeeeah, I don’t eat fish….that’s…meat.

“Well we have a wonderful pizza selection.”

Yeeeah, I don’t eat dairy either.

“Hmm, ok. I guess you could try one of our salads?”

……………….I’ll have the house salad.

Maneuvering a menu can be daunting, even to a carnivore, and especially if you’re trying to eat healthy. Add being plant-based into the mix? It can be down right exhausting.

Unless you are at a restaurant that has specific options available indicating that they are vegan, most often the salad list is the first you go to. While I love a great salad, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the house salad with sweet potato fries at a pub. And even then you have to be careful! Some restaurants use animal fat for flavor while cooking their fries.

Like I said. Exhausting.

Since I love love love sharing helpful information with you all, here is a list of some strategies I’ve learned in my short time of being plant-based at restaurants.  

———-

Check the menu ahead of time (if you can).
Lots of restaurants have their menus readily available online. Either through their website, or an app for your phone. So if you have time, check it before you head out. This will severely decrease the amount of time you need to spend looking at it when you get there. If you’re out strolling the streets, nine times out of ten the restaurant will have their menu posted on the door for all to see.

Make nice with the server.
Your server is now your best friend. Not only do they know the ins and outs of the menu, but most likely they’ve had a handful of plant-based diners come through the trenches and already have a few suggestions up their sleeve. And seriously, be nice to them anyway. They handle your food. Don’t mess with people who handle your food.

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.
I absolutely hate it when people ask a bazillion questions about the menu. So annoying. Once I went plant-based, I got over that real quickly. When it comes to what I put in my body I want to know exactly what it is. What kind of stock do you use in the soup? Are the fries cooked in animal fat? Do you use butter in the pasta dish? In order to be less annoying, I pick my top two options first and then ask questions about those two items. Don’t ask about six different items on the menu. That’s annoying. And if you had time to look at the menu before-hand, then you should’ve already had a couple of questions prepared.

Make it plant-based yourself.
It can be really easy to make a meal plant-based simply by omitting a few key ingredients. If you’re eyeing a juicy Portobello burger, but it comes slathered in a mayo-based condiment and melted cheese, just ask them to remove those two items and see if they can replace them with something else like grilled veggies. They may even have a substitute condiment that doesn’t have dairy if you ask! 

Check the ‘side’ items menu.
Who says you can’t make a meal out of sides? No one. That’s why, if I’m not finding anything on the menu that I can make plant-based myself, I go straight for the side items. For example, I recently made a meal out of a huge black beans/rice combo with some grilled asparagus. It was filling and only cost me $6! Another bonus of eating off of the side items menu, it’s easy on the wallet.

Acceptance.
There are places, that no matter what you do or ask, there isn’t a single item on the menu to eat. At this point you just need to accept it and move on……..then order a salad.

———-

So there you have it. My personalized list. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! And if you have any tips yourself, leave it in the comments section so others can benefit from your words of wisdom.

Happy dining everyone!

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10 Comments

  1. Add avocado = delicious.

    Reply
  2. I resonate with this so much! I have 0 plant-based friends and tend to eat out a lot with my job. As much as you can “prepare,” at times, you inevitably find yourself in a dining-out rut. Mustard is my “best condiment friend;” water with lemon & herbal tea are life-savers – I chug these…ha!; Whole grain bread on the side with some olive oil & balsamic; a side of salsa to top on a side of rice… hot sauce to spice things up!

    Reply
  3. Excellent advice. I have also found that since I changed my diet I’m far more assertive (in a nice way) about simply asking for what I’d like. So long as you do it nicely, most places are A OK with accommodating you. On a recent trip where we were forced to eat out a great deal I ordered plain whole wheat pasta and then a bunch of sides, used olive oil and balsamic on the table and made my own big bowl of yum.

    Reply
    • That sounds delicious! I’ve never thought of ordering plain pasta and making it complete myself. I’m totally doing that next time I’m in a jam. Thanks 😉

      Reply
      • No problem. The nice thing is you can do it in almost any restaurant in some form or another. I’ve become a shameless but friendly off-menu orderer. 🙂

  4. Great tips! I also like the ordering-off-the-menu option; I think sometimes the chef/cook will up his or her game to show you that they can make something good. 🙂

    Reply
    • Definitely! It’s amazing what a restaurant will do for you. They’re a business and want to have great customer service (for the most part). You just have to be willing to ask!

      Reply
  5. My French Heaven

     /  November 10, 2012

    This looks so delicious!

    Reply

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